On Monday, the great renewal of CBC television took shape, with all sorts of minor pointless changes new, attention-catching refreshening of look and feel.
Nationally, CBC Newsworld was renamed CBC News Network, gained some on-screen furniture (a clock, weather, CNN-like animated lower-thirds, and an obnoxious non-transparent bug in the corner) and got a new schedule which has more one-hour shows and less 24-hour newsroom.
The National was similarly changed to reflect the network's new look (block serifs and pointless coloured square dots). Most importantly, Peter Mansbridge does the newscast standing up, which is kind of awkward.
Other reviews of changes on the national level:
- Naila Jinnah
- Toronto Star
- John Doyle (Globe and Mail)
- Bill Brioux
- Paul Wells
- Comments on The National's blog
Changes in radio were minor: a new World Report at 5am for early risers, and additional local radio newscasts at 6:30pm (short) and 7pm (long).
Online, very little has changed, other than the new block-serifed logo and the Inside Politics blog with Kady O'Malley, freshly poached from Macleans.
But what interested me was the local television news. CBC Montreal hasn't had a late-evening newscast in a long time, and I was curious how they would do this one ever since I heard about it last month.
It starts with the 6pm newscast, which still has the 90-minute format but gets a new graphical look:
Considering some of the awful elements of the former graphics (especially business graphics and weather), most of these are significant improvements, even if they all strictly follow a national template.
(If you're wondering about the weather guy there, it was Ian Black filling in for Frank Cavallaro - they made a point on Tuesday to say they missed him when he returned.)
The silliness of the 90-minute newscast, repeating the same stories over and over again in a slightly different way, and having reporters do live chats with anchors that could easily be replaced by them just pressing play on the package, continues under this new look. The set is also the same.
A full-page ad, which appeared in The Gazette on Monday, describes the 90-minute newscast as having "three convenient tune-in times", which translates as "you can watch it any time you want, as long as it's between 5 and 6:30".
But I digress.
CBC News: Montreal Late Night (10:55)
I set my VCR (yeah, I still have one of those) to record the 11pm-ish newscast on Monday night.
It starts at 10:55pm, taking a five-minute bite out of The National and a five-minute bite out of The Hour. I'm not quite sure of the reasoning behind this (it's the same nationwide). A criticism of it is that people will miss the first half if they watch primetime TV instead of The National. That's exactly what happened to me on Tuesday night.
Here's how broke down the first night (times are within a second or two):
- At 10:55, Peter Mansbridge ends the National, right after a fake-live chat with Jian Ghomeshi (I could tell it was fake because Ghomeshi was outside in broad daylight) by saying "keep watching your local news (sic), because it starts right now" - a generic statement because it applies to all local newses in all markets. Andrew Chang jumps in with "thanks Peter" as if Mansbridge was addressing him personally.
- Chang jumps straight into a brief about a sewer collapse, not so much because it's an important story, but because it's new and fresh.
- At +0:25, a story on the mayoral race and a radio debate, introduced live by Steve Rukavina in the newsroom.
- At +2:00, Chang gives a 20-second hint at the weather overnight (it's cold), adding "we are just minutes away from the full weather forecast" - even in the rushed 10-minute newscast, there's plenty of time to waste promoting what's coming up
- At +2:25, a throw to George Stroumboulopoulos, who gives a 15-second preview of The Hour and concludes with "and now back to the news". Again, the response is "alright, thank you very much George", struggling to fake a conversation even though Strombo is clearly not listening to him.
- At +2:40, "news in 100 seconds" goes rapid-fire through the headlines (though thankfully without a clock or other gimmick)
- At +4:30, a brief on the H1N1 vaccine
- At +5:10, a package (the only one of this newscast) from Joanne Vrakas on a new MRI machine at the Children's.
- At +6:35, a recap (from Chang) of the Canadiens/Islanders game that night
- At +7:25, Chang says "we're back in 60 seconds", and then an exterior shot, wasting 15 seconds
- At +8:40, true to Chang's word, the commercials come back after 6o seconds, and the weather guy (Ian Black filling in for Frank Cavallaro) gives as full a forecast as you can present in under a minute.
- At +9:50, Chang concludes the newscast, saying "we're warming up the red chair" before he's cut off by Strombo beginning his show.
Going by the numbers, it works out to six minutes of news (all of it local), a minute and a half of weather, less than a minute of sports, and a minute of advertising (a minute and a half if you include the Strombopromo). That's not bad, actually, though I could do with less "we're only minutes away from" stuff.
What really bugs me is the fake handoffs between national and local. The CBC should know better. They tried this with their ill-fated Canada Now, in which a national anchor would present the headlines at the start of the 6pm show, the local anchor would cut in with local news, jump back to the national anchor, and at 6:30 the national and local anchors would coordinate a fake throw to local news. It was awkward and forced, and I also believe somewhat dishonest.
Hopefully the CBC will learn from its mistakes ... again ... and drop the fakery. We don't care if the local anchor thanks Peter Mansbridge or not.
The other thing that struck me is that the vast majority of the newscast is just Andrew Chang talking. Only the weather, Rukavina and Vrakas's reports, and George's 15 seconds involved anyone else talking. It's a bit much. Not that I don't like Chang's voice, but it can get monotonous after a while.
And if the guy can talk for 10 minutes straight without a break, what does he need a coanchor for at 5?
Where is this online?
Finally, I'm a bit disappointed by the online offering. The CBC is starting to put local newscasts on its video portal (it's hard to find - you have to click down a few levels, including through "TV Shows" which is incredibly unintuitive), but there's still nothing from Montreal. The best you get from CBMT is a recording of the 6pm newscast in crappy Windows Media. They could at least offer the late-night newscast in the same format, preferably downloadable as a podcast, for those who want to tune into the news after the fact.